The Best Independent / International Films of 2009

by PopMatters Staff

7 January 2010


5 - 1


cover art

(500) Days of Summer

Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Matthew Gray Gubler, Chloe Moretz
Review [17.Jul.2009]


(500) Days of Summer
Marc Webb

If there is one genre that is always desperate for some new life, it’s the romantic comedy. Directed by music video maestro Marc Webb, (500) Days of Summer is just what the doctor ordered—a smart and contemporary love story (or is it?) with a nonlinear plot and a superb soundtrack consisting of acts like Pixies and Doves. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel earn their title as America’s brightest young talent in their lead performances, owning their characters and evoking empathy in ways that few Hollywood romantic comedies can pull off. With intuitive editing and a script that hits at all the right spots, this indie sleeper hit’s greatest charm is in its flawed, human touch. Effortlessly life-affirming, (500) Days of Summer gives us an American romantic tale that we can actually digest. Cyrus Fard



cover art

Anvil: The Story of Anvil

Director: Sacha Gervasi
Cast: Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow, Robb Reiner


Anvil: The Story of Anvil
Sacha Gervasi

This documentary about an aging, largely forgotten heavy metal band attempting a European tour has drawn a lot of comparisons to the classic faux-documentary This is Spinal Tap. And those comparisons are warranted, as things on the tour often go awfully, hilariously wrong. But it’s not the humor that makes Anvil such a great film. It’s the affecting, loving portrait of two best friends (singer-guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner), who have stuck to their guns and held onto their dreams through the years. Even though the music industry left them behind in the mid-‘80s as bands like Metallica and Anthrax were taking off, Anvil never stopped playing. Even as they approached middle age and had to find day jobs, they didn’t quit. The part of the story where Lips and Reiner reluctantly turn to family members to ask for money to finance their thirteenth album is one of those rare movie moments where it’s nearly impossible not to get swept up in the emotion. Chris Conaton



cover art

In the Loop

Director: Armando Iannucci
Cast: Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, James Gandolfini, Chris Addison, Anna Chlumsky, Gina McKee
Review [7.Aug.2009]


In the Loop
Armando Iannucci

Politics is still like high school—meaning that personal status is everyone’s chief concern—but the repartee is much snappier in Armando Iannucci’s darkly hilarious In the Loop. Oh, and there’s real stuff at stake like declaring war on a country which poses no immediate threat to either the US or the UK. Based on the 2005 BBC series The Thick of It the film portrays the flurry of activity on both sides of the Atlantic set off when a stumble-mouthed prime minister (Tom Hollander) inadvertently announces that “war is unforeseeable” during a routine interview. Peter Capaldi stars as a British press officer and reigning world champion of the personal insult (almost all of which are unprintable) while James Gandolfini contributes a memorable performance as a U.S. general who understands the true cost of war. Sarah Boslaugh



cover art

Summer Hours

Director: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jérémie Renier, Edith Scob, Dominique Reymond, Valérie Bonneton, Isabelle Sadoyan, Kyle Eastwood


Summer Hours
Olivier Assayas

The grief that underlies writer-director Olivier Assayas’s lovely and poignant film Summer Hours works itself on you so quietly and insidiously, you may be surprised by how devastated you feel when the final credits roll. After their mother Hélène dies, three adult siblings vote to divide and sell her estate, which includes artistic treasures and a summer cottage that has been in the family for generations. Their decision is swift, democratic, logical—dictated by immediate concerns—but Assayas illustrates how it will have ramifications on the family for years to come. Hélène’s possessions hold the tethering power of memory, without which, as neuroscientist Eric Kandel has described, experience is “splintered into as many fragments as there are moments in life.” When a vase of Hélène’s winds up behind a glass case in the Musée d’Orsay, you viscerally understand why its absence of flowers always felt “like death to her.”  Marisa Carroll



cover art

The White Ribbon

Director: Michael Haneke
Cast: Christian Friedel, Ernst Jacobi, Leonie Benesch, Ulrich Tukur, Ursina Lardi, Fion Mutert, Michael Kranz


The White Ribbon
Michael Haneke

In Michael Haneke’s masterpiece The White Ribbon, the director explores the shifting politics of a rural, religious hamlet that unravels from the inside during the period in German history right before World War I. Loneliness, cruelty, incest, love, evil, isolation and impending fascism are but a smattering of the heady topics given the Haneke treatment in this rich, epic black and white folkloric allegory that cuts to the bone and creates an uneasy atmosphere unlike any of the great Austrian director’s other works. Haneke spoke to me in November about the popular misconception that his films were overly-violent:

“In fact, there’s almost never any violence in my films depicted on screen. If you were to collate or bring together all of the violence in all of my films and put them end to end, you’d find that there is far less violence that’s depicted than in the most banal TV thriller that’s being broadcast. The only reason the violence is so powerful or appears so powerful is because it is not shown, it is not visible. I call on the spectator’s imagination to imagine what I’m alluding to, and the spectator’s imagination is far more powerful than anything you can provide for them. The viewer should think about what he or she is seeing.”—Michael Haneke to Matt Mazur, November 2009

Matt Mazur


We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work. We are a wholly independent, women-owned, small company. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing, challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. PopMatters needs your help to keep publishing. Thank you.

//Mixed media

How It Slips Away: 'The Breaking Point' Crosses Hemingway With Noir

// Short Ends and Leader

"Whether we've seen or read the story before, we ache for these sympathetic, floundering people presented to us gravely and without cynicism, even when cynical themselves.

READ the article